On a sunny autumn day, we pulled up next to an old wooden farmhouse in Nova Scotia. To our right, beyond a wall of stacked firewood, was a group of people sitting in the shade, eating watermelon.
Pink, orange, and yellow watermelon, with black seeds spat into thick grass. We’d arrived at Broadfork Farm.
Our hosts were Bryan and Shannon, and we ended up at their farm because they’d reached out to us; Shannon had read something about our trip somewhere, and invited us to come stay with them in River Hebert, Cumberland County.
A few years ago, they bought 15 acres of land and a centuries-old farmhouse from an woman who’d lived there for decades. The house was in disrepair, and while it still doesn’t have hot water, Shannon and Bryan have fixed it up to suit their needs, and will continue to do so in the years to come.
Dana and I had our own rooms (there are so many to spare, after all!), and Shannon showed us some of the treasures hunted from the attic, including an array of old irons.
They’re the only young farmers we came across during FEAST who’d purchased their own farm which, while still very difficult, is more of a reality on Canada’s east coast than in the west. Bryan and Shannon also happen to be two of the most intelligent and thoughtful people we’ve met, on this trip or otherwise.
Neither of them were born into farming; they’ve chosen this life, and are well aware of the benefits and hardships it will bring them. They also, very wisely, treat their farm as a very demanding business, and ask any person who comes to them with dreams of farming, “Do you also want to be a small business owner?”
Because that’s what farming is. It’s not just knowing the land and the soil and the thousands of intricacies involved in growing food from seed. It’s managing a budget, marketing yourself, and trying to achieve a financial gain that’s at least slightly greater than your input. The benefits aren’t monetary; they’re a chance for independence, for Shannon and Bryan to build a life together, and to positively impact the food system and environment. You can read about their remarkable farming philosophy here.
In addition to their full-time work at Broadfork, Bryan gives workshops on vegetable lacto-fermentation, and we got to try some of his amazing goods. They’re also actively involved in various organizations, and take very opportunity to host kids at their farm, and pass on their knowledge to anyone wanting to volunteer and learn.
Shannon blogs about farming life, and in doing so both passes along any advice she can offer, and seeks the input of others in the farming community. She’s a part of the Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network (ACORN), and recently, on ACORN’s behalf, was appointed to the Canadian Organic Standards Revision Technical Committee. Translation: she now meets with others in a big boardroom where decisions are made regarding organic standards, all of which have a tremendous impact on Canadian farmers. Through meetings over the next two years, she’ll add her experience to the decision-making process, and genuinely make a difference.
The day we arrived at Broadfork was Shannon’s birthday, so their friends (many of them also farmers) had gathered for a Sunday afternoon picnic. It was late enough in the season that there were pumpkins,
but not SO late that the time to feast on fresh produce had passed. For two days, Shannon and Bryan fed us, and it was incredible; the kind of food that needs little embellishment, since the ingredients themselves are near perfection. I mean, these tomatoes alone, come ON….
Before we left, Shannon went ‘shopping’ in their fridge and cellar and sent us away with bags full of vegetables. We cooked with them in the days that followed, a continuing reminder of their talent at growing food and providing generous hospitality.
For anyone who shops at the Dieppe Market in Moncton, we are so, so jealous.
ps - Here's a great article about Bryan and Shannon's farm love story!